Thursday, March 25, 2010

First Anniversary and Recollection of a Special Kiss

"Happy Birthday" Vintage postcard

This is the anniversary week of my blog. Last year for my birthday, which is also this week on 26-March, my husband and I visited our daughter Céline in California. My daughter who is very knowledgeable with computers, programs and all the new technologies set up the blog for me. It took us a few days to decide how it would look and what it would be called. The photograph of the clouds in the heading was cut from a photo I had taken while flying over Newfoundland, Canada. Then on 30th March 2009 the Introduction was published. It was followed by my first post,quite short, which included a collage from a program my daughter had installed for me on my computer. A year has passed very quickly and this is my 63rd post. Some of my blogging friends published many more posts than I but mine are a bit long so I decided to post them about once a week or so. In French the word “anniversaire” serves double duty. It means “anniversary” of course but also birthday, as this is the anniversary date of one’s birth.

A year ago, when starting this blog, I had no expectations, or any idea about what it might lead to. It has lead to my knowing some wonderful people, from a variety of cities and countries, with different interests and knowledge. I never dreamed that so many of you would read my posts and leave comments. I have truly enjoyed the expression of friendship, feedback, questions and remarks. I am happy to welcome so many new and lovely friends in my home, virtually. It encourages me to research for more posts in the coming year. Thank you all again. Every year for my birthday my mother would give me a potted hyacinth. I bought one this week for you and display it below in a collage.

Click on photos to enlarge them

Rather than continuing with my trip in Florida I thought that for this anniversary I would tell a little story of an early recollection from my childhood in Paris. We lived in a 5th floor “walk-up” apartment (6th floor in the US.) This apartment was in the 9th arrondissement of Paris (there are 20 arrondissements or quarters in Paris.) The 9th is situated to the north, below the basilica of the Sacré-Coeur of Montmartre, and to the south, the Opéra Garnier.

Our building was in a “cité” which is an enclosed courtyard usually with no outlet. The entrance gate was never closed.

I used to play in the courtyard with my best friend, Nadia, and another 3 or 4 children.

Once out of the cité and crossing the street we could walk up the street to the Sacré-Coeur in 10 minutes (about 1/3 mile or so) as you can see it at the top of the street below.

On rue Turgot above (the name of this street) on the left-hand side, used to be a hair-dresser. My grandmother thought that Shirley Temple was an exquisite little girl and wished that I looked like her. For my birthday she sent me to the hairdresser with a postcard of Shirley Temple. The hairdresser’s instructions were to have my hair look as closely as possible to Shirley’s.

Vintage postcard of Shirley Temple

Recollection of a Special Kiss

When I turned 7 years old, every morning before going to school I would become sick. The first doctor we saw said that I was trying to get out of going to school. But I liked school. The second doctor sent me directly to hospital where I was operated for an appendectomy and also a hernia. After spending a week in hospital the doctor’s orders were that I was to stay in bed for at least three weeks (that’s the way it was then.) Mother brought some exercises books from school and I also had many picture books, but I was restless. Mother placed my bed in front of the window so I could see the sky. I could also see the windows of the building across ours. [Last November I went back to the cité in Paris and took some photographs. The walls have been painted and the shudders taken off my window, but the building looks the same. My bedroom window is the 2nd from the left on the top floor below the gabled window.]

In the picture below my window is the first to the left, below the gabled window on the roof. The window slightly ajar next to my window is the kitchen window.

After a few days I saw the window across mine open and a little boy looked outside. He saw me. He stood there staring. I moved away from the window. The next day he came again, longer. This went on for a few days then he took his slate board and with a chalk he wrote “bonjour” (hello.) I waved. The next day I had my slate board and had written “comment tu t’appèles?” (what is your name?) He answered “Gilbert” and asked for mine, but I did not give it to him. Another day he brought a big balloon to the window. I showed him my old teddy bear. We could not speak as we were too far and screaming was out of the question. From a distance I would show him my picture books and he would show me his. This went out for about 3 weeks and I returned to school. I did not see him again because his building entrance was on the street, not in the cité, and he did not attend my school.

Then a week-end a bit later my parents decided that we would drive to the country where my cousins lived, a small village near Melun (about 1 hour south of Paris.) My parents owned a house there and my father who liked to deal in real estate had bought a small hotel and grocery store there also. The hotel was called Hotel de France – a big name for a tiny inn. [Last November when we visited my cousin we drove back to this small town and I was amazed that the hotel looked almost the same, so many decades later. My cousin said that it was not a hotel anymore, but had been divided into apartments. The exterior had not been repainted though.]

So going back to my story - after we arrived at our county house I asked my parents if I could walk up to my cousin’s house, using the alley. [You can see the front of the house below, with the brown shudders. The alley is on the left going away from the garage door. ]

I still remember that morning. It was a bit cold. I was rushing to go to the end of the alley. Then I would have to make a left toward my cousin’s house. I liked to use this alley instead of the main road because there were many gardens on both sides with beautiful flowers.

Jardin de Monet à Vetheuil, Claude Monet, French 1840-1926

Arriving towards the end of the alley I heard someone running coming from the right. I stopped. A boy was running. He stopped. I was thunderstruck. It was Gilbert! I thought how did he get in this alley in this little village? I still don’t know. I said “Gilbert?" he answered “oui, c’est moi” (yes, it’s me) then he added “comment ça va?” (how are you) I replied “bien” (well.) We stood there. Neither one of us could comprehend that we were so close after those weeks peering out of our windows. I did not know what to say, so I asked him “What are you doing here?” He said that he came with his parents and they stopped for the night at the Hotel de France on their way to visit the Castle of Fontainebleau.

Old Print of Fontainebleau castle

I could hardly speak but I finally asked him what his full name was. He told me. I said that it sounded strange. He said “c’est un nom Juif” (it is a Jewish name.) He asked my name. I told him my first name. He wanted to know my whole name. I told him. He said also that it was a strange name. I said “c’est un nom Arménien” (it’s an Armenian name) and I added that we both had strange last names, so we were alike. He agreed. Then he said that since we were alike he could kiss me. KISS ME?? I said no, my mother would not like that, that it was not proper. I was 7 years old and he was 8. He said that it would be just on the cheek – a special kiss. So I told him that it should be only once on the right cheek. He came close and kissed me on the cheek. I ran. Later on that day when my mother and I were walking by the small square in front of the Hotel de France we saw Gilbert playing with his balloon. My mother had her camera with her and recognized Gilbert. She said we should have a photo taken together. She took the photo. I lost the photo for many years. Two weeks ago my husband found the photo in an old box in the garage. Here it is below. See my Shirley Temple hair cut with a bow in my hair and Gilbert’s balloon. Soon thereafter his family moved and I never saw Gilbert again, but I still remember that special kiss.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Lions? In Florida?

Postcard, courtesy Impact

As I mentioned in my previous posts on West Palm Beach, Florida (starting with the post on 18th February) we went there to celebrate my husband’s birthday who wished to be in a warmer climate. This particular day we decided to visit Lion Country Safari.

Since we went to this park I have read opposing views about zoos, zoological parks and aquariums. I’ll mention several observations here – views “against”: animals should not be taken away from their environments for humans’ pleasure. Most visitors spend little time in front of zoo displays; they are there mostly for the entertainment than to learn about the animals. Animals that live in family groups in the wild are kept alone or just in pairs. Animals are confined, lack privacy with little opportunity for mental stimulation or physical exercise. Natural hunting and mating behavior are eliminated. Zoos continue to capture animals from the wild to put them on public display. It is cruel to keep animals confined.

Vintage postcard of tiger (1905)

Here are the views “for”: because of the population explosion, animal habitat has been encroached upon or destroyed at unbelievably high rates. Animals are slowly being starved and exterminated. Zoos are the only places the species are safe for the future. Zoos have changed from keeping animals in confined areas of concrete and metal bars to habitat created to more closely resemble conditions in the wild. Today most of zoo mammals come from other zoos; they were not taken from the wild. If shipped back to a foreign land it would be a death sentence. They live much longer in a zoo than in the wild. Zoos educate the public about the value of animals so the public will support conservation efforts. Zoos are actively involved in numerous projects to rescue and preserve endangered species. In 2007 alone, the Zoo and Aquarium in Columbus, Ohio raised over $716,000 for field conservation. Last June we took our 2 ½ year old grandson to the Columbus Zoo. He observed the animals, asked many questions. Television or a picture book would not have sparked his interest as much as watching the animals live, and close up.

Reports have shown that visitors experience a stronger connection to nature and animals after a visit to a zoo or zoological park. They prompt individuals to reconsider their role in environmental problems, conservation actions and enhance their understanding of wildlife. Across America there are over 200 zoos which were visited by about 160 million visitors. Last summer at the Atlanta zoo I saw a busload of small children from an in-town poor Atlanta school. If it were not for the zoo, they would never see a wild animal. Should zoos close their doors and send back all the animals? Should museums sell back their foreign artwork to the countries of origin, like the impressionist paintings to France, the statues to Italy, and so forth, and then close their doors? These are difficult questions that need to be pondered and, in the meantime, we’ll visit the West Palm Beach zoological park called Lion Country Safari. (Click on the pictures to enlarge them.)

The park calls itself the “Home of the drive through safari adventure.” Really you can drive through the 5-mile animal reserve just as you would on the plains somewhere in Africa and watch the animals far away or as close as your car door. The lions, though, are not free to roam since they could be dangerous for visitors or could eat many of the other animals... I certainly would rather go to Botswana or a game reserve in South Africa to watch the animals than in Florida, but these are not trips that can easily be managed.

This cageless zoo was developed by South African and British entrepreneurs who thought that the climate of South Florida was suited to house wild animals and bring an African game experience to the visitors in this rural area of West Palm Beach – a small town called Loxahatchee. They have close to 1000 animals in the reserve. We drove to the park at around 10:30 am and there were very few visitors.

After paying for the admission they gave us a CD so we could hear the narrative on the animals. We started driving slowly into the park. There never was more than one of two cars ahead or behind us, and at a distance. You do have to keep your doors and windows closed and they keep reminding you of this. I mostly used my little Olympus digital camera, Stylus 830, because it has a “through glass’ setting to take pictures. But the pictures may not be as clear and sharp as if I had had the windows open and in some pictures the light reflection can be seen. I took 328 pictures there and wish I could show them all here, but I won’t – I’ll do some collages and hope this will not be too long.

birds perched on decoys

The massive park is divided into seven sections named after famous wildlife areas and national parks in South America India and Africa. One is named Las Pampas (the Grasslands) – where the brown pelicans, the llamas, the Aldabra tortoises and the rheas are located. The rheas look like ostriches; they are large flightless birds native to South America, they cannot fly but can run 30 miles per hour. We drove a second time through the preserve and some of them came to look at us, pretty close to our car.

There were some lovely llamas which we would have liked to pet.

We passed by many water holes and small lakes with a variety of birds. Birds also gathered along the road to feast on the food left there for the other animals.

Don't forget to click on pictures to enlarge them

In the Ruhana National Park section (African wilderness) we drove by the impalas, aoudads and the greater kudus. As the animals came closer to observe us we stopped the car so they would not be afraid and run away.

One young female greater kudu (I think this is what she was) kept coming closer to look at me.

The Kalahari Bushveldt (Southwest Africa) had the gemsbok. It is a large African antelope with a tuft of hair at the throat and some darker color in the face area.

When we arrived in the Serengeti Plains section (East Africa)

we were greeted by an ostrich

then we passed by a waterbuck which is another type of antelope from Africa.

There were also some mouflons, elands and wildebeests.

From a distance we saw the African elephants. My daughter and I rode on top of Asian elephants while in Northern Thailand. The African and Asian elephants are very different. They differ anatomically and in temperament. The Asian elephant is more peaceable, reliable and trainable whereas the African elephant remains moody and undependable, at least in the wild. When you ride an Asian elephant you feel as though you dominate the world. The elephant moves slowly, assuredly and you float over the jungle. Three of the African elephants there are in a special enclosure in front of a small pond.

The Gir Forest, a well-known national park in India, had the Asiatic Water Buffalos. We drove very slowly and closer to them – they are big!

Then we rode by the Hwange National Park, a famous reserve in western Zimbabwe. This is the home of the white Rhinoceros – we saw quite a few of them. Lion Country Safari is a part of the SSP (Species Survival Plan) for this endangered species. Since 1977 many white rhinos have been born on their preserve. The name for the white rhino comes from the Afrikaans word “vide” which means wide or square-lipped. Their color is not white, but stone-gray.

One of the rhinos was having a snack, so we stopped to watch him.

He interrupted his snacking and started walking towards us.

Then he stopped and watched me. I was a bit anxious as I did not want him to charge the car.

I started the car very slowly and eased toward the giraffe’s area. Looking on the right hand side I quickly snapped a picture of a white-handed gibbon – he was shooing some birds that were encroaching on his domain.

One of the giraffes was feeding and the others were outside with their young ones.

Reaching the Gorongosa Reserve, located in Northern Mozambique, we saw the lions behind a safety fence. Game wardens in pick-up trucks made sure that no visitors open their car windows. One of the lions was next to the fence on a hill. The animals are not confined but their area is quite large. It was hard to get a good shot through the car window. I also used my Sony DSC-HX1 as it has a telephoto lens.

The second time we drove through the Hwange area many zebras were near and on the road. We stopped and were able to look at them quite close. I happily snapped away – 23 pictures, below are just a few.

click on pictures to get a better look

After touring the reserve with our car we left it in the parking area and explored the park further, on foot. We took the Nature Trail which brought us near Lake Shanalee. Many birds were around the lake – Sarus Cranes, Flamingos, etc. as well as large turtles.

The Lori bird feeding area was enclosed by nettings. The birds flew all around us and perched on our shoulders, our heads and bags. My husband had left his camera case on a cement seat and the birds went all over it to investigate.

On our way out we passed the Macaws

Finally it was time to leave – and we had not seen everything.

It had been an enjoyable day even though it can be difficult to see animals in captivity but then – what if the animal would not survive anyway because of the constant human need for more land, urbanization, deforestation and global warming? Wildlife is slowly being lost – more than 5,700 species are on the brink of extinction, including 1/8th of the bird species and ¼ of all mammals – add to this number about half of the 6,000 species of amphibians (frogs, salamanders, etc.) Zoos are one way we can make amends for destruction of lands and seas but mankind needs to halt the spiraling growth of population and its demand on the planet or there won’t be any wild animals left. Animals are an important part of our Earth and since we are the ones who put them in danger we need to do everything we can to protect them.

"En fin de compte, nous protègerons seulement ce que nous aimons.
Nous n'aimerons que ce que nous comprendrons.
Nous ne comprendrons que ce qui nous a été enseigné ."

- Baba Dioum, Poète et Naturaliste Sénégalais né en 1937
(d’un discours fait à New Delhi, Indes in 1968.)

Lion in a Landscape, Rosa Bonheur, American, 1822-1899

"In the end, we will protect only what we love.
We will love only what we understand.
We will understand only what we are taught."
- Baba Dioum, Senegalese Poet and Environmentalist born in 1937
(from a speech made in New Delhi, India in 1968.)

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